Socialist Worker

Frustration and only strategy a ‘long haul’

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1909

A MEETING of the Labour left in London last week showed the anger and frustration felt by many party members.

The audience at the Labour Representation Committee founding conference spoke out against Blair’s policies from privatisation to the war in Iraq.

But they did not see an alternative beyond staying inside Labour and hoping to be allowed a voice in the party.

At last year’s “Save Our Party” conference, called by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, many felt buoyed up by the election of left union leaders.

They hoped these leaders would transform the Labour Party.

But that strategy has run into problems.

The RMT union was expelled from Labour in February after its conference voted to allow backing for non-Labour candidates.

FBU union members voted to end their union’s affiliation to the Labour Party last month.

The CWU members voted to end all funding for Labour if it privatises the postal service.

Last week’s conference was smaller—around 300 people—compared to the previous year’s and mainly made up of older party members.

Some shuffled uncomfortably as Mick Shaw from the FBU gave an honest account of why his members had voted to break from Labour.

“Members said, what’s the point staying in and giving money? We weren’t the first to leave and I fear we won’t be the last,” he said.

CWU leader Billy Hayes forcefully put the argument for staying with Labour.

He was eager to stress that delegates at his union conference had not voted to break from Labour immediately.

He referred to Respect, talking of the “need to be tough with friends and comrades on the left” that “a break to the left of Labour has simply not materialised”.

But he avoided mentioning Respect’s powerful showing in the 10 June elections in areas such as east London and Birmingham.

The conference agreed to set up a Labour Representation Committee, whose name harks back to the organisation that gave birth to the Labour Party, to campaign for old Labour policies inside the party.

It agreed to meet again next year, when there is likely to be an election and all the usual pressure on party members to bury their criticisms and get the vote out.

Lynne Jones MP gave a taste of this when she said, “We have to put as good a story as we can tell about the Labour government. I’ve been out in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election and it is difficult when you look at the reactionary literature that’s being put out.”

One union delegate got a ripple of applause when she said, “I used to be in the Labour Party when I was 16. Like thousands of others who aren’t here today I left the party because I was a socialist. I think we should be talking to people in Respect because I want to be part of a bigger movement.”

But those at the conference decided to resign themselves to, in John McDonnell’s words, a “long haul” of trying to change the Labour Party.

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Article information

Sat 10 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1909
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